Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: At Home With… (1958)


“Muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh.”

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In the 1950s opera-trained baritone Jalacey Hawkins struggled to make his mark in the music biz, eventually realizing there was no market for Black opera-trained baritones. Realizing that his ability to scream in tune could apply to other genres he remade himself as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the blues-walloping, nose bone-wearing, skull-carrying wildman song terrorizer. After a series of singles he released his twisted debut album At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1958.

The most well known track is “I Put A Spell On You”, a simple love song embellished with enough shouts, hollers, grunts, and demands as to possibly enact supernatural possession. Clearly unafraid of coming across foolish, Hawkins’ unfurls the world’s worst Chinese impression in the ridiculous “Hong Kong”, and equally silly German and French in the AM radio-smooth “I Love Paris”.

Hawkins’ stage act played up his witch doctor affections, which helps explain the swampy bird calls of the moonshine-enhanced “Alligator Wine” and the hideous cuisine of “There’s Something Wrong with You” (Roast baboon salad smothered with bubble gum…/A dish of cow fingers and mosquito pie).

With a voice as powerful as a kick to the throat, Hawkins rides the range like a 20-foot tall cowboy in the spur-kickin’ “Frenzy”, and devolves jump blues into gibberish with the surreal “Little Demon”:

He pushed back night, brought in afternoon
He even made leap year jump over the moon
He took the Fourth of July, and he put it in May
He took this morning and brought back yesterday

“I Put A Spell On You” sold over a million copies but never charted because…

THE FALLOUT: …it was banned from airwaves nationwide due to its cannibalistic nature. Yes, some radio people thought the song could actually cause the listener to eat human flesh. Whatevs. Although Hawkins developed a successful career as a touring musician At Home With… was a colossal failure. He recorded sporadically throughout the rest of his life, never coming close to another hit song but reaching a new audience through the 1984 film “Stranger Than Paradise”, heavily featuring a character haunted by, yes, “I Put A Spell On You”. Cannibalism be damned.

At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Boldly silly yet swollen with talent, At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins hollers at your front door, and it’s not leaving until you let it in.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Shock G, underground environmentalist.

Parliament: Osmium (1970)


If the Funk is ahead of its time, does it make a sound?

THE SCENE: According to George Clinton, the five-man ex-doo-wop group Parliament performed polite music you could play for your mother, while their five-man backing band Funkadelic was the group that would scare your mother into cardiac arrest. The fact that all ten people were in the same band was simply a matter of convenience.

In 1970, even though Funkadelic was already signed to the Detroit-based Westbound label, Clinton signed Parliament to the Detroit-based Invictus label and delivered Osmium. Parliament had released several smoothed-out hit singles in the previous years, so the raw and roughneck Osmium had the effect of discovering that your seemingly normal parents were actually two-headed Martian warlords.

Although this album preceded their use of squiggly synths, alter egos and sci-fi concepts, Parliament still had loads of goofball energy and naïve eccentricity. Half the album is co-written by folk artist and label mate Ruth Copeland, and her straightforward melodicism and religious themes make a downright bizarre platform for the funk. “Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer” is a harpsichord and choir-led hymn based on Pachelbel “Canon” and is performed completely straight! No joking about Jesus this time around.

“Put a Little Love In Your Life” is a mini-progressive rock opera detailing the journey of a would-be star, with enough mood changes to rival a Broadway song. Slow organ riffs merge into spazzed-out guitar solos, voices drop in and out, tempos speed up at will, and yet it holds together.

Parliament gets its Nashville on with “Little Ole Country Boy”, a hyped-up country-and-western song complete with pedal steel guitar solo, washboard percussion and lots of yodeling. Yes, yodeling. Parliament also finds a place to showcase the bagpipes, of all instruments, on the beautiful dirge “The Silent Boatman”.

Peppered between these mid-tempo quasi-show tunes are lots of crazed funk songs. “Funky Woman” is an exceptionally tough call-and-response about personal hygiene that showcases guitarist Eddie Hazel’s sizzling tone and Clinton’s grizzled humor:

She hung them in the air
Funky woman
The air said this ain’t fair
Funky woman

She hung them in the sun
Funky woman
The sun began to run
Funky woman

She threw them on the line
Funky woman
The line, it started to cryin’
Funky woman

She threw them in the yard
Funky woman
The yard, it cried, Oh Lord!

The rockabilly “My Automobile” is a cute re-enactment of the songs’ own creation, with the band sitting around the studio harmonizing top-of–their-head lyrics, followed by the “real” version of the song. Osmium also contains an early version of Funkadelics’ “I Call My Baby Pussycat”, a naughty crunch rocker about, er, cats:

Now I’m a tom cat and you’re the pussycat
And I’m just sittin’ here, licking my paw
Now I’m the tom cat and you’re my little old pussycat
Why don’t you scratch me on my back with your claw?

I don’t know, but I’ve been told
That dogs are man’s best friend
Wild and warm is my baby’s love
My kitten is where it’s at

The album has a low-budget and fun country charm with a surprising amount of restraint, considering the source. Neither Parliament nor Funkadelic were ever this peculiar again.

THE FALLOUT: Even the band didn’t think an album this eclectic would sell many copies, and they were right. It did OK in Detroit but that was it. Parliament lost their recording deal but they were picked up by Casablanca in 1974 and released Up For the Down Stroke, which began a long string of bagpipe-free and high-selling albums.

Osmium is available at Amazon and you can also listen to tracks here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Terence Trent D’Arby does his Brian Wilson impression and brings his career to a screeching halt.